Nothing ruins an outdoor adventure faster than ravenous mosquitoes.
The biting insects are a big downer in the summer months — and things could get worse. Mosquito populations are increasing and expanding their range, according to 2019 research published in the journal Nature Microbiology, leaving more people vulnerable to bites that cause red bumps and itchy skin. Mosquitoes can transmit serious diseases around the world, including West Nile virus, Zika and malaria.
Though malaria is not often found in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a health alert around mosquitoes and malaria. The CDC recently identified four cases of malaria in Florida and one in Texas in people who appear to have been exposed to the disease locally. Doctors and public health officials should be on the lookout for increased cases as people travel internationally over the summer and could bring cases back into the country, the CDC alert warned. Symptoms include fever, chills and headaches.
Here at home, getting the insects to buzz off can be a tall order, especially for those with higher levels of certain acids on their skin that make them more attractive to some mosquitoes.
In a 2022 study published in the journal Cell, researchers from Rockefeller University in New York City found that people who produced higher levels of carboxylic acid were “mosquito magnets,” says scientist Maria Elena De Obaldia, who worked on the report. It’s unclear what causes people to have more (or less) of these acids on their skin.
“It’s possible that some people who are less attractive to mosquitoes than others express natural repellents,” De Obaldia says. “If this turned out to be true, we could use this information to try to design repellents that would make all of us smell more like the people who are less attractive to mosquitoes.”
Until then, we asked the experts to weigh in on what works — and what doesn’t — when it comes to mosquito prevention.
What works to repel mosquitoes
1. Bathing with coconut-scented soap
In contrast to fruity or floral-scented soaps that can lead to a mosquito feeding frenzy, coconut repels the biting insects, researchers at Virginia Tech found.
“We like to scent our soaps with chemicals typically associated with the pleasant scent of flowers and plants, but mosquitoes also use plant-emitted [scents] to find plants and obtain sugars from their nectar,” says researcher Clément Vinauger, an assistant professor in the biochemistry department at Virginia Tech, who was among a group that studied this issue.
Vinauger notes that coconut-scented products might even be more effective than mosquito repellents containing the active ingredient known as DEET. The takeaway: To discourage mosquitoes, lather up with coconut-scented soap and slather on coconut-scented sunscreen before heading outside.
2. Spraying the bottoms of walls
Did you know that by spraying just 12 percent of a room with insecticide you can kill 85 percent of mosquitos? A new study by researchers in Brazil found that significantly more mosquitoes (both male and female) frequently visited the bases of walls rather than the upper portions. That allows you to use less spray overall to kill more mosquitoes. Make sure to choose an insecticide that is generally safe for children and pets.